Caring for the canopy is a top priority of Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District (WNRCD). With 47 municipalities under its jurisdiction, WNRCD’s efforts have led to a collaboration with the Vermont Monitoring Cooperative (VMC), the University of Vermont Rubenstein School of the Environment (UVM), and the city of Winooski to support the city’s efforts to manage and maintain its urban forests.
“As the largest conservation district within the state, we understand the urban environment and the need to maintain green space,” WNRCD District Manager Corrina Parnapy said. “The health of our urban forests and environment are important to quality of life for residents and the protection of our natural resources.”
A key component of that support is a two-year ecosystem inventory and analysis, which took place in 2014-15 and selected 70 random plots, identifying attributes such as tree species, size and crown width; land use and ground cover of the plots; and potential future planting space. The data was used to estimate the number of urban trees in the city (58,600 providing 35.8 percent canopy cover) and quantify ecosystem services such as air pollution benefits and rainfall runoff interception.
“Urban trees are extremely important to water quality, air quality and stormwater controls,” Parnapy said. “The results helped identify the need for a management plan and an ordinance.”
The efforts have largely been funded through Caring for Canopy grants and matching dollars. With the results, the district developed a Winooski Tree Management Plan in 2016. Last year, the district wrote the city’s tree ordinance, which was expected to be before the City Council this June for possible approval later this year and worked with the city’s Tree Advisory Committee on outreach and planting efforts.
“There’s been a lot of transition in Winooski,” Tree Advisory Committee member Jim Duncan said. “There have been two different directors for Public Works in six years, more younger families are coming in and changing demographics, and that makes the partnership all the more valuable, so we can quickly turn to them.”
“It’s been really rewarding,” Duncan said, “and it’s made it easy for the city so we don’t have to ask someone who’s already overtasked for more help. The city’s been able to support us with a lighter touch approach in getting this work done.”
As part of a grant awarded in 2018, WNRCD requested $3,200 to continue developing a comprehensive urban tree management system for the city, which is the most densely populated municipality in the district. The goal is to create innovative policies that will improve the value of the urban forest and increase engagement with volunteer groups and residents.
“We’ve answered the question of what we have and how to keep track of what we have,” Duncan said. “The tree ordinance will set the next stage, so in five years we can see we don’t have any net loss. We are experiencing a lot of new rapid development in the city, and is that development enhancing or adding to tree coverage as it happens? I think those are going to be the pieces we’re going to look at to see if it’s happening.”
The grant also will help support a contracted professional position to work with the Tree Advisory Committee, WNRCD, the city’s Department of Public Works and with city personnel and council members. The position will assist with pruning hazardous trees, identifying and planting suitable species and providing maintenance through the city ordinance to help guide the city and enhance the partners’ collaborative efforts.
Another aspect is engaging residents and providing data to help them understand the makeup and function of the existing urban forest and the significance in creating and maintaining a tree program that maximizes the benefits provided by trees in the city. The Tree Advisory Committee is working toward Tree City USA designation as part of that effort.
Findings from the inventory and analysis help demonstrate monetary benefits. The urban forest is estimated to store 11,700 metric tons of carbon at an estimated value between $919,000 and $1.8 million annually and prevent 29,100 cubic meters of runoff from entering local waterways annually. Results also show an estimated structural and functional value of the city’s urban forest exceeding $63 million.
Every winter, goals and objectives are reviewed and updated with actions for the committee to implement in the upcoming year.